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Budget challenges await state Legislature's return in January

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POSTED: December 17, 2012 5:00 p.m.

When the Georgia General Assembly convenes in January in Atlanta, revenue — or the lack thereof — may decide what gets done.

That was the message at this week’s three-day Biennial Institute, a pre-legislative issues briefing for state lawmakers.

The pre-session meetings concluded with Gov. Nathan Deal cautioning legislators not to anticipate money for many new initiatives.

“I must tell you it is a rather daunting budget this year,” said Deal.

Tax collections decreased by 1 percent last month compared to the same period a year ago. Fiscal year-to-date tax collections are up just 3.7 percent. That’s below the 4 percent growth rate the current state budget is based on.

Deal has already asked state agencies to trim spending 3 percent from what was appropriated for this fiscal year. ...That equals the $700 million shortfall in the state’s Medicaid system and that Deal said requirements of the federal health reform law will add another $42 million in expenses for the program.

While health care cost increases are coming at a time when revenues are weak, lawmakers likely don’t have the option of relying on reserve funds. Those funds remain too low to cushion against additional cuts.

Deal was cautious about the budget, and he did not use the briefing to outline many specifics of his legislative agenda. Those things he did mention were items that would not call for significant public spending.

Lawmakers convene for the 2013 General Assembly session in about a month. It may be an interesting session with more attention again toward cutting the budget rather than initiating spending programs.

 

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